20 November, 1998

November 20, 1998

I am sorry that it has been so long since my last journal. Things have been busy and not much new has been happening.


1. From 10PM to 5:00 AM: Toss and turn because of the dry air dehydrating my nostrils and throat. Since the sun never sets I wake up several times thinking it is morning because of the light coming in around the drapes in the window. Still after 3 weeks it is hard to sleep. (It will be wonderful to see something as simple as the darkness and the stars again.)

2. 5:15. Breakfast in the cafeteria while watching Good Morning America. I could eat eggs, bacon, hash browns, corn beef hash, and pancakes, but I eat granola, coffee, pastry, and lots of water.

3. 5:45-8:45 Work in the darkroom processing film and printing enlargements.

4. Coffee-break. Usually I drink moca.

5. 9:00-11:30 Miscellaneous activities; these might include any of the following:

-Answer e-mail, work on journal.

-Talk with Sierra and Ed about the DASPEI injection schedule for my fish for that day. Assist in whatever way possible.

-Count chloride cells and/or measure their sizes in photo enlargements. -Measure osmolality (overall salt concentration) of fish blood.

-Wash Glassware

-Here and there take an opportunity to photograph something like a skua near the old aquarium, or some seals by the skidoos, or the fish in the aquarium.

- Check the gas in the skidoos.

- Chat with scientists about their research in the coffee room.

6. 11:30-12:15: Lunch: a huge meal like dinner or the option of a freshly-made deli-sandwich. Lots of yummy dessert.

7. 12:15-3:15 Photograph chloride cells through the microscope. (The cells glowing with DASPEI look like beautiful starry constellations.) Measure as many of the cells as I can using the 400X magnification before they start to disintegrate.

8. More miscellaneous activities, as #5 above; or more chloride cell photography.

9. 5:00-5:45 Supper. This week we had chicken cordon bleu, various pasta dishes, filet mignon, chili, buritos, pizza, lamb chops, pot roast, pork, soups, corn, carrots, succotash, asparagus, beets, broccoli, almost every style of potato, and assorted yummy desserts. I am defintely gaining a bit of weight with the lack of exercise and the abundance of good food. During supper and lunch I like to chat with various scientists and other people about what they are doing here in Antarctica and other interesting topics. These conversations have varied tremendously including such topics as:

-microscopic fossils

-what you can learn from minerals in sediment

-organisms that live in dirt-filled pockets in the ice that become active when the sunlight is absorbed by the dirt melting the ice and enlivening the previously freeze-dried life

-the spleen's probable role in the removal of ice crystals from fish blood

-abuses of the Antarctic Treaty

-places to hike in the area

-when to see penguins walking around in town (after the Ross Sea ice melts in January and February...after I leave

-a person at USGS in Reston who might like to come to Flint Hill School to talk about fossils in Virginia

-how to study the effects of pollution on the animals of McMurdo Sound

-using GPS to measure the spreading of the Earth's tectonic plates (on the order of 1-5 mm per year) -using a microwave telescope to study stars in the daylight from the South Pole

-what you can learn from studying the ice at the bottom of a glacier.

Tonight I just got back from a wonderful supper conversation with the Base's Catholic priest who was also a missionary for 10 years way out in the bush of Papua New Guinea. I have also lived for several months in the rainforests of PNG doing research so it was great exchanging stories about the people and culture, and reminiscing about the lush greenery and abundant birdlife, which of course are not quite so abundant here on The Ice! He was there in 1970 when he said he worked with cannibals and saw them in action! I definitely want to eat with him more often.

6:00 - ?: work in the darkroom developing negatives and printing enlargements. (Tonight I'm catching up on my journal instead.)

After That: answering e-mail, visiting the chapel, going for a walk, or going to bed.


Yesterday I had a craving to get out and feel the invigorating cold breeze and enjoy the scenery around McMurdo. I had spent 3 solid days in the lab and darkroom and I needed to get out, get my circulation going, recharge my soul, and experience the awe-inspiring aspect of Antarctica so I went for the short walk out of McMurdo down towards the frozen sea on Hut Point Peninsula. Here I found the abandoned hut used by Scott and his expedition in 1908, a cross memorializing a man named Vince who drowned near there in 1908, the old carcass of a seal left behind by Scott under the eaves of the hut (Why hasn't it rotted away in all these years?), and some wonderful scenery looking north along the coast of Ross Island. The dark volcanic ash and cinder that makes up the soil of the slopes surrounding McMurdo had absorbed heat during the day, melting the snow from a recent flurry so their dark slopes contrasted sharply with the vast expanses of brilliant white ice looking north towards Cape Evans. The ice had been cracked and folded along the shores into nice textures and shapes. A Weddell Seal had found its way up through the cracks and was sound asleep in the evening light casting a long shadow behind him on the ice. And in the distance, the awesome Royal Society Range. Almost every time I look up at these distant mountains they look different. The shadows cast by the sun from different angles during the day change their texture. Last night through the western haze, they looked flat and blue, with the sun flashing brightly off the icy glaciers and causing the wispy clouds in their valleys to glow. Sometimes they are gray and sullen, draped with clouds, or totally obscured so all you can see is the frozen sea that seems to go on forever. Sometimes they look highly etched and every sedimentary layer and cliff-face stands out stark and clear with bright white snow and dark cliffs. At those times, when the air is clear and the sky is blue, it is amazing to me that they are so far away. What looks like a few miles is really about 40 or 60 miles!

This was the view from Hut Point that was enjoyed by Scott and his rugged team of explorers. The difference in the view now is that there is an ice road across the sea ice, and an airport a few miles away on the sea ice. Then when I turned around and looked towards McMurdo, the sight was not quite so pretty. It was quite a contrast to picture Hut Point Hut in the foreground and modern McMurdo, looking much like a mining town, behind it. Where Scott saw a sweeping slope up to Observation Hill and Castle Rock, a present-day observer sees huge fuel storage tanks tiered on the cinder slopes above town. Though the town itself is not attractive, its surroundings are fabulous and the facilities inside the ugly-looking buildings have all the comforts of home and excellent equipment for conducting research. One might think that with 1000 people living in the Antarctic, going to bathroom, producing food wastes and hazardous lab wastes, driving vehicles, and so forth, we would be making a mess of the place. But considering the circustances, it is actually quite clean. All wastes are carefully sorted, collected, and shipped back to the USA for recycling or processing. The only exception is human sewage which is ground up and pumped out under the ice into McMurdo Sound. (At field camps all human waste is gathered in barrels and brought back to McMurdo so there is minimal impact on the fragile environment there.) Questions to think about:

1. What should be done about the human sewage for 1000 people here in McMurdo?

2. Where do we get enough water for 1000 people to drink and bathe in when the only sources we have have around us are ice and ocean?


Today I was all excited. Another TEA (Betty Trummel) and I were going to go visit the seal researchers to help them study their tagged population of seals that they have been studying since 1969. We got on the skidoos and started on our way at about 10:15 expecting to arrive at 11:00. But all does not go as planned. About a mile out onto the ice my snowmobile stalled three times and I couldn't get it started again. We tried to figure out what the problem was but had no luck. We had a radio so we called Pete in the snowmobile repair shop. He said he'd come out and help us fix it. While we waited in the spectacular scenery we talked about how great it was to get outside in this wonderful scenery even if it meant being stranded for awhile. It was a splendid day and the wind, though brisk and frigid, was invigorating! It was a wonderful clear view of Mt Erebus venting a few puffs of steam into the rich blue sky. (Back in the Crary lab the seismograph was undoubtedly recording every little vibration accompanying each puff of smoke.)At 11:00 we decided we'd better call the seal guys and tell them our situation. Even though they are at a remote camp on the sea ice they have a telephone so we radioed MacOps, the communication center here at McMurdo and they patched our radio through to their telephone. The connection was scratchy, but through the static and broken connections they told us that they were just about to go out for their daily work on the ice so we had better reschedule for another day. A few minutes later we tried the skidoo again and it started up! So we made our way back to McMurdo and called the snowmobile repair shop so Pete wouldn't come out looking for us. It was disappointing but it was going to be a short day anyways because we had to get back by 5 for Betty to catch a helicopter to Cape Roberts. Maybe if we go a few days from now we'll have more time to really experience the research!

So instead I counted cells and worked on my journal. And now you have it. So it wasn't a complete loss.

Well, I'd better get going if I want to go for a walk this evening.

Two quick questions for you; please e-mail me back an answer if you would:

1. Do you want me to answer my questions to think about in later journal entries, or do you want me to leave them hanging?

2. I only have 1 1/2 weeks left here. Is there any topic you want me to discuss in detail before I return?

I hope you have a good day and do something good for someone. 8-)

Fred Atwood



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The view from Hut Point.

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